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Saturday, December 6, 2014

God's Comforting Love

"Comfort, give comfort to my people." Is 40:1

Prophets are fascinating people. Like all good leaders they warn us about dangerous paths we might be taking or reprove us when we fail to live up to our values, but they can also be incredibly gentle and consoling. The 40th chapter of Isaiah is like this.

When the Jewish nation was in exile. many forgot who they were and to whom they belonged.  Others found ways to compromise with their captors as a way of staying alive, but were neglecting their religious obligations. Isaiah knew all this and decided that honey works much better than vinegar when people are lost and in pain.  Like the Samaritan who stops to help the fellow left for dead by robbers, Isaiah reminds his listeners that soon they will be home, among their friends and families and will be free to worship in Jerusalem. Don't worry, he seems to be saying, God is near and, "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care."

Advent's scriptures are often like spiritual comfort food for me. Just as a big bowl of coffee ice cream can transport me back to childhood vacations with my family in Westport, Ma, Advent fills me with warmth and hope. As life was once simple and rich, so it will be again.  As we prepare to celebrate the Lord's birth, we are reminded that Christmas is not about the gifts we give and receive, but the incredible promise of God not to leave us orphans nor abandon us when we are in exile.

Today, comfort someone who seems lost.

What or who helps you remember the comforting power of God?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Letting the Lord Find Us

"At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd." Mt 10:1

Nature shows of television can be fascinating. Last week I saw one about the hunting abilities of a particular breed of big cat. Although it is a bit unnerving to watch the animal as it isolates a young antelope or gazelle for its next meal, there are important lessons for all.  Cunning and fast, the cat waits for the perfect moment before swooping in for the kill.  Sometimes the younger and smaller animal, sensing danger, is able to retreat to the safety of the herd and the cat slinks away in search of another more vulnerable target.
Jesus is talking about much the same situation in the today's gospel.  When a sheep, a naturally communal animal, drifts away from the herd, it is not only vulnerable, it loses a sense of who it is.  Sheep herders tell us that an isolated sheep might stop drinking and eating, threatening its very life.  Unless the sheep is led back to the herd it risks injury and death. That is why Jesus assures his listeners that he is a good shepherd, especially when those listening to him feel lost, troubled or abandoned. Allowing the Lord to find us when we are lost heals.

Today, stop and let Jesus, the Good Shepherd, find you.

What do you do when you feel lost and troubled?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Letting our Senses Come Alive

Thus says the Lord GOD:
But a very little while,
and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard,
and the orchard be regarded as a forest!
On that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book;
And out of gloom and darkness,
the eyes of the blind shall see.  Is 29: 17-18

The prophecy of Isaiah is wonderfully visual.  Reminding us that all creation "lives" in God, the prophet invites us to imagine orchards becoming forests, and the eyes of the blind being opened to see God's glory in all creation. God's love, Isaiah suggests, is so immediate and so full that one can taste it, smell it, hear and touch it. Working hard to help his sisters and brothers in exile not lose hope, Isaiah reminds them to focus on the simplest of God's gifts, their own senses, as a pathway to renewed life in the Spirit.

Unfortunately, in a society so glutted with visual images, we sometimes fail to appreciate the fullness of God's presence all around us and, in the name of love and self giving, often make our lives more obsessive, more hurried and much less human. While I realize that I am one of the fortunate few who is not compelled to buy dozens of gifts, nevertheless, it saddens me to think that the frenzy and rushing of preparing for Christmas can steal the most precious moments of the church year and strip us our ability to see beyond the physical.

What would it be like, for instance, to take one minute each day to pause and picture the person for whom you are buying something happy, content, and faith filled.  It is not a difficult exercise, but if we gave members of our family an inexpensive gift and a brief note telling them how we prayed for them each day during Advent, they might treasure the note much more than the gift.

Today, think simply.  Live simply. Imagine beauty.

What happens to your faith life when you let set your imagination free to praise God and serve others?


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Rocks of Faith

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock." Mt 7:24

In a front page article, the NY Times reported today that Black Friday sales were 11% lower than last year, both in stores and online, and experts were shocked. Could it be that people actually stayed home with friends and family rather than rush out to stores for the bargains on Christmas gifts? While we realize that the experts will be under enormous pressure this morning to explain the drop in sales and, more important, turn them around, perhaps there is a shift among some to refocus their priorities and take time for the spiritual in their lives.

Advent always challenges us to ask ourselves about the spiritual "rocks" of our lives. Caught up at times with getting ready for Christmas and determined to find the perfect gift for each person on our list, we give ourselves away. Too often we are more concerned with getting everything right than building our lives on the rocks of faith, prayer and service of those most in need, but perhaps this Advent will be different.

Even if we did run out on Black Friday for the great sales, we should not be too put off by our failures. God is waiting for us to turn away from the insanity of a society obsessed with bigger and better: homes, cars, portfolios and retirement plans, and ready to welcome us to a simple life of faith and hope as begin our Advent journey to the Crib. We can begin this journey anytime, even right now.

Today, examine the rocks upon which you build your faith life.

If people asked you why you believe and practice faith, what would you say?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

St Francis Xavier

"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." Mt 9:8

Educated in faith before the Second Vatican Council, too many of us reserve the word missionary to those who like St Francis Xavier leave their homeland, cultures and families and travel around the world announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ. While it is good to honor those women and men who have given their lives to cross cultural and overseas mission, the word mission simply means sent, and we are all sent at Baptism to, "Go and make disciples of all nations." (Mt 28:19)

At the end of every mass, when the priest or deacon echoes the words of Jesus, saying "Go in peace and announce the Gospel of the Lord," it does not merely mean that mass is over and we ought to rush for our cars or the religious ed program or the nearest diner for breakfast.  Rather, it challenges us, having been renewed in our faith by sharing God's word and the Eucharist, to bring the Good News to those who have never heard it, forgotten it or rejected it.

Further, we are to announce the Good News without fear. Relying on the Lord to give us the words and lifestyles that allow others to know the God who has come to set us free, we become the body of Christ on earth by living the Gospel every day.

Today, ask to be sent as you are to those who have never heard the Gospel.

How do you live the life of a missionary in your daily life?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Seeing the Whole

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

Seeing is a wonderful gift, one we can easily take for granted. Only an injury to the eye, even a slight one, makes us sit up and take notice. That we can see and appreciate the beauty of all creation is remarkable, and while it seems simple it really is very complex. So many parts of our body have to work together for us to see, and Jesus uses this very basic faculty to teach us about sensing beyond what our eyes and ears and brain working together offer us.

Acknowledging what our senses tell us, especially when it is painful, is important not just for ourselves but for our society. When we see or witness abuse of any kind we cannot simply turn away in denial. Experiencing abusive drinking or encountering spousal abuse unnerves us and sometimes moves us into denial. We don't want to believe what we saw or heard and try to excuse or interpret another's actions to free ourselves from responsibility. 

Some of the Jewish leaders, who could have worked with Jesus to proclaim God's reign, did not want to see, hear or admit that Jesus had remarkable powers and insight, that he understood and interpreted the Torah in a way that freed people to live the Law more fully and deeply. Because they feared their power was being challenged and undermined, they chose to be blind and confronted Jesus at every turn but were never able to dissuade or distract ordinary people from acknowledging what they experienced.  We all need to learn that seeing with the mind and heart is as important as seeing with our eyes alone, otherwise we will miss the transforming power of the Gospel.

Today, open your eyes slowly and look around at the glory of God's creation.

Have you had an experience that helped you see God's action in your life more clearly?




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Compassion

“Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.”

Not infrequently, we can feel like the centurion in today's Gospel whose servant is suffering dreadfully. A rare form of cancer or a difficult to diagnose heart ailment strikes a friend out of the blue, and everyone begins scrambling to understand, to help find a doctor, to get a second opinion, to choose a form of treatment, and all of this before our friend has begun to accept his illness and decide on a path of action. At times like this, what we really need to do is offer our friend the same compassion Jesus extends to the centurion and his slave.

Compassion is the quiet presence we can offer to those who are lost, confused, anxious and doubtful.  It is rarely surrounded with a multiplicity of words. Rather, it is like an open hand extended to others with love and tenderness. It is not condescending or judgmental.  It is the simplest form of love and lets all know that they are not something to be fixed, but friends who need a companion with whom to take the next step. Because the centurion is so full of genuine compassion for his servant, Jesus is anxious to help him, and ready to help us if only we present ourselves to him with humility and trust.

Today, offer a stranger compassion.

Who showed you the kind of compassion Jesus offers to the centurion and his servant?